A Christian bishop who left Syria for Austria may have a hard time returning. He has been accused of treachery and received death threats on the web.
These acts of intimidation did not
come from the cut-throats of some extremist sect but from members of his
Eustatius Matta Roham, the Syro-Orthodox
Metropolitan of Jazirah and Euphrates in Syrian Mesopotamia has been out
of the country for over a year and is currently in Vienna.
A few days
before Christmas, a commando of hooded men stormed the metropolitan see
in Qamishli and filmed themselves expressing their opposition to the
The video was then published on YouTube.
Everything about the video – the language and tone
of voice used and the men’s postures – is reminiscent of the kind of
video terrorists make to announce their revenge.
The video shows the
group’s members reading out a statement introducing themselves as
spokesmen of the Christian people and accusing the bishop of escaping,
leaving his people behind to suffer and be the target of threats.
call upon Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas to have the fugitive
bishop removed and replaced. They then call for traitors to die, pulling
photos of Rohan off the walls, stamping all over them and hurling
insults at portraits of the Patriarch and President Assad.
It is hard to assess the substance of these
threats but the video depicts some unusual dynamics which reflect the
suffering and complex situation in which many Christian communities in
Syria are living as a result of the conflict.
The North Eastern part of Syria, where the
province of Jazira is situated, is where Kurdish militia – in tacit
agreement with the loyalist army - began the counter-attack against
Jihadist-dominated rebel groups some time ago. The Islamic State of Iraq
and the Levant (ISIS) responded mainly by carrying out suicide attacks
Other rebel brigades such as Ansar al-Khilafah
have recently been taking action. As the number of these groups has
spread, Christians have also got involved: Sootoro, one of the self
defence groups set up by locals has many young Assyrian Christian
members. They defend their own settlements without relying on protection
from Kurdish militia or the regular army.
Officially, some representatives of the Syrian
Christian community have taken a neutral position in the Syrian
conflict. But at least some of the groups that see Sootoro as a
reference point also see Assad as an objective ally unlike the feared
Catholic communities are far less exposed to the
temptation of a direct involvement in the conflict. “The Church cannot
point anyone down the path of arms and violence as it goes against the
teaching of the Gospel,” the Syro-Catholic archbishop Jacques Behnan
Hindo, titular of the eparchy of Hassakè-Nisibi, said in a statement
“The government offered me 700 Kalashnikovs to hand out
Hassakè’s Christians last year and another thousand to Christians in
Qamishli, but I refused. We oppose violence, regardless of what side it
The Syrian tragedy seems destined to leave behind deep
wounds even within the Christian communities, as the threats against
Syro-Orthodox bishop Roham show.